There is more theology in the last two verses of Peter’s first letter than in half the tomes of medieval Christianity. They read, “Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed. You were like sheep that had lost their way, but now you have been brought back to follow the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls” (TEV). In these two sentences the apostle identifies the problem of the human race, sets forth God’s answer, reveals the purpose of it all, and describes the end result. Only thirty-five words in the Greek text but they tell the complete story of what George Stevens correctly called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Now that is brevity! As we might put it today, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of a business card, you don’t have a clear idea.” Writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Peter certainly set forth with all clarity the plight of man and God’s remedy. Let’s take it step by step.
We were “like sheep going astray” (v. 25). Created for God’s flock, we wandered away. Peter speaks of man’s “sins” and here is the reason why we chose to check out other pastures. The Genesis story tells us that we bought into the serpent’s lie and decided to take over our own future. Apparently God was not telling us the whole story. Or so it seemed. As a result of our sin (the decision to go it alone) we find ourselves separated from God. Scripture calls it “being lost.”
It should come as no surprise that God is a problem solver. We may not understand the way to get home, but he does. Ram and ewe have left the pasture prepared by God, but he has never given up on us. He sees us as we wander, knowing not which way to turn. His shepherd heart goes out to us and a decision is made. Since it was sin that led us astray, it is sin that must be dealt with. So the triune God sent his Son who “carried our sins in his body to the cross” (v. 24). With sin out of the way, the sheep are free to return. Problem solved! But wait, the sheep are still in a strange pasture.
The answer, of course, is for each sheep to decide that the redemptive act of the Shepherd provides the way back home and by faith head out in that direction. Arriving back in their original pasture, the sheep realize that from now on a different kind of life is expected of them. Peter writes that our “redemption” (our return to the original sheep fold) is “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (v. 24). No more wandering away. No more thinking that God is withholding something from us. No more insistence on our own way. Sin always separates; let’s not miss out on the delights of genuine pasture life. It’s time to live for righteousness — to do the right thing.
So how does it all turn out? We know that the story of redemption began with our “going astray like sheep” (v. 25). And how does it end? Here comes the divine adversative, “BUT now you have returned to the Shepherd.” Wonderful story, fantastic ending!
In today’s world we hear a lot about the need for role models. It may be that society is beginning to understand that living without boundaries leads to social anarchy. Concerned parents are looking for individuals who in their lives demonstrate those qualities of character they admire and want their children to emulate. A few years ago Tim Tebow, the much discussed quarterback in professional football, served in that capacity. His open and unashamed commitment to Christ was refreshing in today’s world (at least for evangelicals).
In 1 Peter 2:18-21 the apostle presents Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model but puts it in a context that would give many some hesitation about following that kind of leader. Peter is discussing suffering and the Christian life. He reminds his readers that while suffering for bad conduct has no specific value, if you “suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (v. 20). Now there is a challenge! You do the right thing and take the abuse . . . and that pleases God? That’s right — and in Christ we have the perfect example of that way of living. The following verse tells us that Christ’s suffering leaves us an example that we are to follow.
If ever there was a man who suffered unjustly it was he. Never did he respond to his adversaries with anything but love. Never did he yield to the tendency to defend himself. What he did do was to show us most vividly how we are to meet opposition in the world. And that is to not retaliate.
Now there is an example to follow. Instead of defending ourselves at every turn we are to humbly present ourselves to God for whatever he has in mind. Should that involve suffering, Rejoice! He is our example, our template, on how to live. The big picture is to renounce self and open ourselves to the task of showing the world the beauty of the Christian way of living, even in spite of the suffering it may well involve.
In verse 16 of chapter 2 Peter counsels his readers to live as free people, but not to assume that this freedom allows them to do anything they want to. The truth is that they are “God’s slaves” and what this implies is laid out in four concise statements.
His readers are to “respect everyone” (TEV). No one is to be denied proper esteem because every human being bears the image of God. True, it may be marred by a life lived apart from God, but the real worth of an individual is measured by the fact that Christ died for him. What a remarkable way to view every person we meet on the street – loved by God, purchased by Christ, respected by me.
Secondly, they are to “love the family of believers” (NET). No easy task, either then or now. God has created us as relational beings, not so we could have someone to annoy, but because that is the best possible environment for learning how to get along. Face it – what is eternity but the timeless setting for us to enjoy being together (with Him and with one another) forever. God’s plan for eternity is that we live together in genuine love. Time to get started.
Then we are to “fear God” (NJB). I tend to think that we have limited this kind of fear to what we often call “reverential awe.” Of course, that is true. As we get to know God more fully we stand amazed at his unlimited power and glory. But to “fear” God is also to share his intense hatred of sin. His abhorrence of all we call evil is as profound as is his love for us which is beyond comprehension. Fear God means FEAR God. Don’t diminish the intensity of his hatred for that which cost him the ultimate sacrifice – the life of his only Son.
Finally, we are to “honor the emperor” (NIV) – not an easy thing to do when the ruling power is cruel and despotic. Government was established by God for the benefit of all. The emperor was a part of that plan, and that doesn’t change when he is not all he should be. If Christian principle leads you to disobey, do it in an honorable fashion. But in the meantime, be a law-abiding participant here below as we await our heavenly home.
No easy thing to be one of God’s “slaves.” But aren’t you glad that he has provided not only the incentive but the empowering influence of his Spirit as well.
In the second chapter of his first letter Peter counsels his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that . . . they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (vs. 12) Then in the next breath he adds, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (vs. 15). What attracts my attention in these verses is not that believers should live a good life (that is obvious) but that the purpose for living that way is its impact on others. Not only is the good life good in itself but it has a good influence on others. Peter refers to non-believers rather bluntly as “pagans,” as ”foolish people” who speak out of ignorance. It could be argued that that kind of person is beyond help but Peter would disagree. The truth of the gospel plays a role in ever situation of life. Consider the following.
In the first place, the good life of Christian believers does not go unnoticed. It isn’t something that is done in the corner. The outside world may not agree with our religious commitment but they can hardly escape noticing that we react quite differently to the passing events that constitute daily life. At least our lives should catch their attention. Each day is filled with events that reveal a different way of responding to the realities of everyday life. For the Christian, disappointment is tempered by hope, sorrow by joy, discontent by acceptance. Peter says that although the pagan may accuse the believer of doing wrong, the believer’s good deeds will ultimately lead them to glorify our God (2:12).
At the same time a believer’s good deeds will silence the vocal opposition of those living apart from the truth (2:15). Acts have a powerful way of revealing one’s position on common issues because something is actually happening. Words are words – they float in and out but in themselves are less than convincing. It is not until that which is said becomes that which is done that words effect change. Peter encourages us to do good works because they are a powerful method of “telling” the good news of God’s redemptive love. Speak when appropriate but always do. Living the good life not only brings deep personal satisfaction but provides for others examples of how God would have us live.
If you don’t know what the problem is, you’ll never come up with an answer. I sense that a lot of believing Christians don’t understand why their life in Christ lacks the joy they understood would accompany faith. It seems that life has declared war and all they wanted was peace. But wait – that’s exactly what has happened. Before faith we were relatively comfortable with the world in which we found ourselves. We understood that some things were right and other things were wrong, but in general we felt ourselves at home in a world that required no deep moral commitments.
But when we said Yes to the God who revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, a war broke out. Peter writes to his friends telling them to abstain from sinful desires that “wage war against your soul” (2:11). Well, there’s the problem – we’ve gone to war! Now the enemy in this war is not the world in which we live. Our opposition comes not from without, but from within. The enemy is sinful desire, and that is something we provide. Jesus lists twelve different “evil thoughts” that come from within and defile a person (Mark 7:21-22). So our war is a “civil war” – the worst possible kind! It is our old nature that attacks our soul (Greek, psyche, “the seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects” - BDAG).
Now that we understand who the enemy is – “the disordered natural inclinations” as the NLT put it – how do we do battle against them? How do we resist the very things that our own natural desires want us to do? It is helpful to understand that when we turned to Christ in faith we were granted a new spiritual life. That new life is empowered to resist successfully the demands of the old nature, but we are the ones who must constantly make the decisions. In every attack by the old nature we must decide to allow the available power of new life in Christ to rout the enemy. It always works! Someone put it this way. In each of us are two dogs, one black one white, always fighting. Which one wins? The answer is simple; the one we feed! So feed your spiritual life and you will win every skirmish against the old nature.
It’s great to be chosen! I remember as a boy, waiting in a state of mild panic as names were read off one by one for the chance to play on one of the two teams. I didn’t care which team, I just wanted to be chosen. Even if my anxiety revealed a personality disorder, I wanted to play.
How unimaginably great to be chosen by God! In 2:9, Peter borrows four designations used in the Old Testament for the people of God and assigns them to the New Testament church. We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” The very first designation for the believer is that we are a “chosen people.” It was God’s eternal plan that a certain group of people be chosen from the human race for a specific purpose. Israel was that nation. God selected them, blessed them with his presence, taught them through his law how they should live, granted them victory in battle, and provided them (a nomadic people) a promised land. What Peter is now saying is that those who have responded in faith to the message of Jesus have become the New Testament continuation of God’s decision to choose a special people for a special purpose.
And what is that purpose? With typical clarity Peter says it is “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful life” (v.9). Why did God choose us? The answer is crystal clear – that we might declare his redemptive plan to bring people out of the darkness of sin into the light of his presence. What a message! And what a privilege to be granted the honor of sharing this life-changing message.
It intrigues me that God chose a fisherman to articulate this truth to the early church. Truth often comes from unexpected places and from individuals seemingly ill prepared for such a monumental declaration. But, laying down his fishing pole, as it were, Peter declares the truth that our salvation was not an accident but the result of a plan carefully laid out before time began.
We are a vital part of that great plan to honor God with our praise as we explain how we emerged from spiritual darkness into the bright light of eternity. The story of redemption is the most thrilling story of all time. Someone said all novels are the same: they start with a problem, in comes the hero and the result is deeply satisfying. In God’s true “novel” the problem is sin, the hero is Christ, and the solution is restoration to fellowship through faith in Christ. It is the story the elect are privileged to share as the dark days of history are suffused with the light of eternity.
A major difference between the gods of paganism and the God of the Judeo-Christian faith is that the latter is changeless. The author of Hebrews speaks of the third person of the Trinity as “the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). God can be counted on to always act in exactly the same way. For example, to obey his precepts is to enjoy his favor, to disobey them is to suffer the consequences. That is always true. In his second chapter, Peter writes that those who rejected the “living Stone” stumbled because that is “what they were destined for” (vs. 8). Note that they were not destined to stumble but destined to fulfill the divine order that those who disobey will stumble.
We accept so readily the law of nature that if you drop an object it falls. It has always been that way and we don’t really believe that next week it will be different. Since creation is an expression of a changeless God, its “laws” are dependable. It is held by many that apart from the westward growth of Christianity and its understanding of an unchanging God and therefore a stable universe there never could have been a scientific revolution. Acid inevitably turns litmus paper red. If someday God changed his mind and decided that from that point on it should turn green, our confidence in the scientific method would be undermined.
The bright side of God’s unchangeable nature is that he will never fail to bless those who honor him. His promises are steadfast and absolutely dependable. His presence is immediately available for those who come to him in genuine humility. We can read the book of Acts with the confidence that today’s Peter or Paul can enjoy the same intimacy with God as did those two early apostles. Those who originally received the “cornerstone” found in him their hearts desire. Since he is an unchangeable God, the same joyful experience awaits us today as we turn from “darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9)
So many of the images in the New Testament are drawn from the Old Testament. That is to be expected since the New Testament is simply the final chapter in a redemptive drama that begins in Genesis. Speaking symbolically, Peter describes the NT church as the OT temple, built of “stones” (believers) that, at the same time, carry out priestly duties (2:5) with Christ as the “living Stone” (2:4) who serves as the “cornerstone” (2:6).
The point that Peter is making is that while this Stone is precious to God (2:4) and the believer (2:7), it/he is rejected by men (2:4). God’s evaluation differs diametrically from man’s. What God honors, man destroys. What God graciously provides, man unappreciatively rejects.
What then should be the relationship between this “Stone’s” followers and today’s world? One would expect that, for the most part, the world (mankind organized over against God) would treat the “little stones” (believers) just like they treated the “living (raised from the dead) Stone.” They flogged him, spit on him and nailed him on a cross to die.
“Wow! Nobody treats Christians like that.”
Well, not generally in what you might call the civilized Western world. However, in a magazine like “The Voice of the Martyrs” you can read how even today, in certain areas of the world, Christian believers are sacrificing their lives for their faith. I’ll spare you the gruesome details of a recent account in North Korea.
My point is that following a rejected leader places you in a position to be rejected. The Christian world-view separates the believer in so many ways from a society that lives by another set of rules. Will they ever take you to court for treason? (Your allegiance is to another world you know.) Perhaps? The question has been asked, “If put to trial for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Worth pondering!